President Obama’s refusal to rule out possible legal action against Bush Administration officials who authorized harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists has split Washington right down the political middle.
Senator McCaskill said she’s not sure President Obama, a fellow Democrat, opened the door to prosecution with his recent statements.
The White House had earlier released a statement that left open the possibility that the Justice Department could pursue legal action against officials within the Bush Administration who formulated the interrogation policy that some critics say amounted to torture. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel seemed to have quelled such a notion during interviews on the Sunday talk shows. Yet, Obama has since declined to rule out such an investigation and stated that if Congress wants to investigate, an independent commission might provide the best avenue.
Obama has walked a fine line in speaking of a possible investigation. He has stated that CIA interrogators shouldn’t be held legally accountable. He hasn’t offered the same assurances for those who created the legal foundation for the policy.
McCaskill acknowledged she’s concerned about the precedent that could be set if a current administration investigates a former one.
"There’s no question I’m concerned about that," McCaskill told reporters in a conference call. "This is not an easy call. This is one of those judgment calls that you do your best. I can argue both sides of this coin."
Senator Bond isn’t as ambivalent. Bond, a Republican as is former President Bush, said Obama is caught between campaign rhetoric and national security reality.
"The president can’t go to the CIA with reassurances on one day and then the next day turn around and leave the door open to prosecutions," Bond stated in a conference call with reporters.
Bond said Obama will set a dangerous precedent if he goes after Bush Administration officials.
"I think this puts us in the position of a banana republic," Bond said. "In Third World countries, when you lose an election, the person who takes over prosecutes everybody criminally."
McCaskill said she can see both sides of the issue. She understands those who argue that looking back over the methods approved by the previous administration won’t help the country fight terrorism, but McCaskill added she is uncomfortable that people at the highest level of government recommended illegal conduct that hurt the reputation of the United States in the eyes of the world.